Hôtel de Ville de Paris – headquarters of the French Revolution, esplanade of liberation.
The Hôtel de Ville de Paris – the City Hall of Paris – was the headquarters of the French Revolution and now is the heart of all things Parisien. It is the mayoral place for local government, receptions, exhibitions, the Olympic rings promoting the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and a central meeting point for locals and tourists.
It was the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357, in a much smaller building. The south wing was constructed from 1535 to 1551, and was grand and historic, with the north wing added between 1605 and 1628.
The Hôtel de Ville de Paris was the headquarters of the French Revolution in 1790 and the headquarters of the Paris Commune, the revolutionary government that seized power from 18 March to 28 May 1871. The Paris Commune burned it in 1871, along with its archives, as a departing ‘scorched-earth’ policy gesture as the French army approached. The façade was rebuilt following the original design, but larger, from 1874-1882, and the inside was considerably modified.
It became the headquarters of the Mayor of Paris and her cabinet since 1977.
The building stands on the Esplanade de la Libération in the 4th arrondissement. My first visit to an exhibition in the Hôtel de Ville de Paris was in July 2013, appropriately to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s life – from his imprisonment to his liberation to his presidency.
The exhibition, from 29 May to 6 July 2013 was part of the France-South Africa Seasons 2012 and 2013 in association with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, which showcased 800 South African artists over the two-year period. The free exhibition, called “Nelson Mandela – from Prisoner to President” celebrated his relationship with the people of France.
The exhibition of photographs, cartoons, sculptures, paintings, films, news reels, and posters began with Mandela’s rural upbringing and schooling in Transkei before his move to Johannesburg to study law. The exhibition showed his arrest in 1962 and his imprisonment on Robben Island in 1963, with an exact re-creation of his prison cell, measuring 2 metres by 2.5 metres.
The exhibition showed images of his release from prison 27 years later in February 1990 and the year he took office as the first democratic president of South Africa in 1994. Basically, the exhibition had six themes: character, comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator, and statesman. I remember that even the Eiffel Tower was lit with the image of a South African flag from 15-21 July 2013 to coincide with Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday on 18 July.